Mattituck church, Rotary clubs lend a hand to Haiti

COURTESY PHOTO | A group of local Rotarians and church members are helping Haiti which was devastated by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake last year.

One year after a massive earthquake devastated Haiti, a Mattituck Presbyterian Church group is once again on the Caribbean island offering medical and dental services and a dose of faith to residents.

The church group’s visit will be followed in February with one from Suffolk County Rotarians and additional medical experts.

Both groups have a long history of involvement with the poor island nation. In the wake of the January, 2010, earthquake, they are bringing aid not just to strangers in need, but to the many close friends they’ve made through the years, according to Rotarian George Solomon of Mattituck.

“It’s not just a money thing, it’s a hands-on thing,” Mr. Solomon said.

The contingent in Haiti includes the Rev. George Gaffga of Mattituck Presbyterian Church and dentists Greg and Beth Doroski,

Tom Christianson, Howard Hansen and Mark DeSantis. (Dr. Jeff Williams returned to the U.S. after one week of treating patients with eye problems.)

Mr. Solomon’s group will include Rotary Club representatives from Greenport and several other Long Island communities along with medical personnel.

A clinic Rotary helped to supply in Nan Sema on the Haitian island of LaGonave has been operating on limited and expensive diesel fuel to power generators. With fuel costing $5 per liter, the generators must be run sparingly, making it difficult to protect medicines that need refrigeration. It also limits the hours when medical procedures can be performed. Thanks to the Suffolk County Rotary clubs, visiting experts will work with Haitians to create a solar powered system that the locals will be taught to service and maintain.

“This is a big thing,” Mr. Solomon said. If outsiders built the system and failed to involve and train the locals, it would simply deteriorate for lack of maintenance, he said.

Another critical piece of equipment the Rotarians will bring is a satellite dish to open up communications for medical personnel. In outer villages, there are no telephone lines and cell phone service requires walking long distances to find a signal. That’s a major concern if a doctor needs to consult with colleagues back in the United States. Delays can costs lives, Mr. Solomon said.
When the dish is installed, the Haitians will be able to get Internet access.

As the Rotarians prepare to leave for Haiti, they’re reaching out to the community for supplies. The group is looking for doctors with supplies of antibiotics, antiviral drugs or other samples to contribute to the clinic in Nan Sema. The same holds true for unopened bottles of over-the-counter medicines, such as Advil, Tylenol and children’s Motrin, provided they aren’t past the expiration date.

To contribute supplies, call Peter Englemann at 387-1189. Monetary donations are also welcome.

Mr. Solomon was involved in efforts to provide water for the people of Nan Sema. In the years since a water pump was built and wells dug, he has watched children who once spent 12 to 14 hours a day walking to fetch water free to spend their days in classrooms instead.

But since last year’s earthquake, so many residents have fled Port au Prince, where the worst damage occurred, that the population on LaGonave has balooned from 5,000 to about 20,000.

“It’s putting tremendous pressure on the island,” Mr. Solomon said.

“My biggest concern is not to let these people down,” he said. “When you see the children of Haiti, you want to make their lives a little bit easier.”

Of the seven or eight trips he’s made to Haiti over the past several years, he said, “I do it because it needs to be done.”

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